Sausage Party animators have a beef. A petition signed by 30 Vancouver-based cartoonists says they were forced to work unpaid “voluntary” overtime on the hit movie or face termination. Nitrogen Studios, which produced the film, denies the allegations.
“These claims are without merit,” Nitrogen said in a statement. “Our production adhered to all overtime laws and regulations, as well as our contractual obligations with our artists.”
The British Columbia Ministry of Labor’s Employment Standards Branch said it “has not received any complaints regarding Nitrogen Studios at this time.”
Compounding matters, there’s no union in BC that covers animators.
“They definitely need a union,” said Jennifer Moreau, VP of Unifor Local 2000, which bills itself as the media union of B.C., though it doesn’t have a contract covering animators, either. “We’ve been monitoring animation companies to make sure they’re not violating any employment standards, and we’re reaching out to those workers to see if they need help. Right now, none of the animation studios in Vancouver are unionized. There are other aspects of the industry that are unionized, but animation isn’t.”
She said it’s “not surprising” that the Ministry of Labor hasn’t received any complaints because “most people are afraid to speak up, and the Ministry only investigates if they receive a complaint.” Her local, she said, is holding an open house on October 19 in the hope of starting a dialogue that could lead to organizing animation workers there.
A local animation website is full of anonymous complaints about the working conditions on Sausage Party, which overperformed in its domestic debut this past weekend. “If you wouldn’t work late for free, your work would be assigned to someone who would stay late or come in on the weekend,” said someone who identified himself as an uncredited supervisor on the film. “Some artists were even threatened with termination for not staying late to hit a deadline.”
The animation department signed a petition for better treatment and paid overtime.
The supervisor noted that when Annapurna Pictures, which produced the film, received the petition, “They stepped in and saw that artists were paid and fed when overtime was needed.”